2018: My year of confidence

I should be writing in my novel right now. I have about 3,600 words to go before I reach the magical NaNoWriMo number of 50,000 (though there’s probably about 15,000 more words left of the story). But instead, I want to write here for a moment so I can share some things with you, and so I can document some things for me.

The New Year is coming up, and for many of us, that means making New Year’s Resolutions that will make our lives better. Of course, these rules are usually forgotten by February. At least, that’s the case for me.

2018

For the past few years, I’ve done away with resolutions. Instead, I dedicate my year to a word, and I let that be my focus. In 2016, my word was PERSEVERANCE. That year, I published two books, and I wrote two more. My freelance career took off, providing a nice second income that carried my book writing expense. I also started college. I let go of doubts and forged ahead, and it was the most productive year I’ve ever had. I sold more books than ever. I proved to myself that I could do anything I set my mind to, I just had to keep putting one put in front of the other.

But by the end of that year, I was just as exhausted as I was inspired. I knew I needed a new word, and I decided on the word community. But when I prayed on this, God told me this was not my word. He kept pushing me to trust him, and I kept pushing back. He finally revealed that my word was FAITH, and that I was to pray into this with a week-long fast.

Wait, what? No food for 7 days? Are you kidding me?

I eventually agreed, and planned to start Jan. 1. God had different plans, and made me sick as a dog in the last days of December. That’s when I heard His whisper. Do it now.

So I did. I lived on juiced fruits and vegetables for almost a week, then just vegetables during the last few days. It was an amazing experience. During that time, everything became so much clearer, and I realized that my word really was FAITH.

This past year was life-changing. I leaned back and let God lead. I stopped trying all these wacky things to sell my books, and instead talked with God a lot more. I relaxed.

Admittedly, my sales plummeted this year. This is a frustrating side effect, to be sure, but I knew this going in. I’m in this for the long haul, not in it to get rich quick. This past year has been about listening to God and leaning on Him, about coming back to center, about recognizing what’s important. I’ve also realized that my faith journey isn’t ending just because the year is. Rather, it’s an introduction.

Now that I’m nearing the New Year, a new word has surfaced. I’d asked God, once again, if my word was community, as I’d thought the year before. He quickly shot that one down, telling me instead that my word was CONFIDENCE. But this word has a separate meaning. It’s not exactly about appearing sure of myself to others. It’s more about knowing who I am, and WHOSE I am. Who am I trying to impress when I deny my feelings and remain meek? Whose opinion do I care about when I hide in the shadows or refuse to speak up? What is it that I’m trying to say in my stories, but holding back on for fear of offending others?

Confidence is saying what I mean and standing behind it. It’s about not censoring myself. It’s about writing books where the characters are messy, use foul language, and make mistake after mistake. It’s about being vulnerable. It’s about writing a blog post about faith and God, and publishing it here, on a blog that I sell books on, instead of putting it in my Faith Blog so non-believers won’t be offended. It’s knowing that some of you are going to turn away from this blog in disgust because your feelings about God don’t match mine, or because I’m not your version of a perfect Christian, and posting this anyway.

It’s about telling the truth, and that’s what I want to do this year. Tell the truth. Tell my truth, that being an author is both the best and worst decision I’ve ever made with my life. Tell my characters’ truths, that they do terrible things and suffer the consequences, and are completely human in every way.

I’m an author who loves Jesus, and says fuck, and allows my characters to be gritty and imperfect. I’m an author who has intense faith and debilitating doubts, sometimes in the same breath. I’m an author who doesn’t fit in with non-believers because of my faith, and I’m an author who doesn’t fit in with believers because I write sex scenes, cuss words, and drug use.

I’m me. And 2018 is my year to stop apologizing for it.

Expect a lot of truth from me in this New Year.

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Be not afraid…

I am currently in the middle of writing a scene that is hard to write. In this, Maddie (from The Road to Hope) is enduring the wrathful abuse of someone she loves and trusts. And as I write, I am recalling moments when I experienced the same thing.

It’s been 12 years since he laid his hands on me, and a bit less since he intimidated me. Still, I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever he calls me (which isn’t often). I feel overly nervous, as if he can reach through the phone and continue what was unfinished over a decade ago.

This is what abuse does. You never fully heal. In the years I was with him, I learned to not look people in the eye, to not tell too much about myself, and to not let people get too close to me. I learned to let fear rule, because it was better to be ready than to be caught off guard. I was told the most horrible things – that my family would be killed if I left him, that I would never amount to anything without him, that I wasn’t to be trusted. He accused me of cheating on him so much that I had to watch my every move to ensure that it wouldn’t appear I was stepping out of line. There were times I questioned if I actually was sinning against him, as I was accused of so much.

We’re “good” now. When we talk, we’re respectful to each other. Our only connection is the kids, and we leave it at that. The kids are at an age where we don’t even need to speak at all anymore. It’s better this way. Still, the few times we do talk, we keep it simple and pleasant. It’s almost as if nothing ever happened.

Except, it did.

When my son was a baby (he’s 15 now), my ex and I got into a huge fight. It was in front of his brother, which seemed to make it worse. He didn’t lay hands on me this time, but he did call me horrible names and threaten me. I couldn’t believe we had a witness there, and he was doing this in front of him. I finally had enough, and I grabbed my infant son and took off.

I didn’t know where I was going, but I just needed to be gone. I ended up driving out to the ocean. As I drove, I cried out to God, wondering if he was even there. How could he just stand by and let someone treat me this way? What was the point in this?

“Are you even there?” I screamed at Him. In all my life, I’ve never doubted God was there. But in this moment, I was starting to think that maybe God really wasn’t there. In my head, I told God that if he was there, show me something red. That was it. No sooner had I thought it, I made a hairpin turn on the coastline. On my right was a cliff with hundreds of white flowers. And right in the center was ONE RED FLOWER.

I can’t even explain it, but I knew this was from God. I have never seen a red flower in that spot since, and I’ve driven past it several dozen times since. But in that moment, I needed to know that God was there. It was a desperate need. I needed to know that all this meant something, and I was getting out of this okay.

Since that day, so much has happened. I got pregnant again, and we lost the baby at 32 weeks. I lived through poverty. I suffered more abuse. I left him. I learned how to be alone. I cried. I felt alone. I experienced a depression so deep, I wished I could die every day.

And, I survived. In all this, I KNEW God was with me. I learned that he had reasons I couldn’t understand. I just had to be patient.

Today, I am married to a man who shows me real love every day. I have a good job that affords me things I once thought of as luxuries out of my reach. I live in a town where I feel at home. I have sincere friendships. I am close to my parents. My kids are the best things that have ever happened to me. I’m safe. I’m loved.

Fear is still a big part of my life, though. Because of the abuse, my life is forever changed. I still have a hard time looking people in the eye. I still let fear rule. I still keep people at arm’s length for far too long, or worry about what others think of me.

But the one think I’ve learned in all of this – I’m not alone.

In writing Maddie’s story, I’m sharing pieces of my own as well. One day I may have the courage to write a memoir. For now, Maddie is sharing some of the pain I endured – the pan that many women have endured – and the courage it takes to get away from the abuse.

This year, I’m determined for a change.

I spent the beginning of this year in a fast. During that time, I spent it talking with God and just hearing what he had planned for me. In that time, I heard him tell me to trust him more and to stop worrying so much. This is the simple answer to what I heard, and I might go more in depth on this at a later date.

Today, I tattooed this promise on my arm with my favorite verse in the bible, Joshua 1:9.

tattoo

This promise is a reminder whenever I feel timid or meek, or just too afraid or discouraged to keep going. It’s a reminder that I’m not alone when I believe I’m in a dark moment. It’s a reminder to have faith and keep going. It’s a reminder that I’m not actually in danger, that God is working the miracle, and my job is to just keep moving forward.

Also, I really, really, really love this new tattoo. 🙂

The story behind “Reclaim Your Creative Soul”

Last week, I was honored to speak to a group of people from my church about Reclaim Your Creative Soul, the book I published earlier this year about making more time for creativity. I began by telling them about my journey toward that book, and then I shared a quick rundown of the necessary steps to varying types of organization—both body, mind, and the space around them—so that their craft can be a priority.

This book is very personal to me. It shares many of the things I’ve come to know in my journey as a writer. I lay out the details of my writing practice, and the different ways I’ve created order in certain areas of my life to free me from distraction and allow me to focus on my craft. But more than that, it shares the spiritual journey I took toward actually writing this book. I’d like to share that with you here.

In August of 2015, I reached my breaking point. My writing was suffering because I felt like I had no creativity left in the tank. My eating habits were out of control, which resulted in weight gain, lack of energy, and a feeling of gross worthlessness. I felt overextended at my job, which was eating away at me even when I wasn’t on the clock. The successful writing career I thought I was going to have was nowhere to be seen. I actually felt like my desire to be a writer was a curse, because everything I wanted was so out of reach, and I was sure I’d be chained to being a 9-5 worker for the rest of my life.

That August, I reached a point where I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I felt like this huge weight on my chest was consuming me. I knew if I didn’t do anything about it, I was going to go off the deep end. Something needed to change, I just didn’t know HOW. So I did the only thing I could think of doing. I took a day off from everything to focus solely on the three areas of my life that were consuming me the most: my career, my health, and my creativity.

I called this day my “soul retreat.”

During that day, I spent time with God, addressing each area that plagued me and seeking answers on what I could be doing better. I not only came away with these answers, I also received a better understanding of who I was, my worth as God’s creation, and my purpose as a creative person. I gained clarity I was unable to reach before. Most of all, I learned how to breathe again.

(I explain what happened in full detail in my book, and also in an earlier entry of this blog)

At the time, I didn’t know I was going to write this book. But the seeds began to sprout on the day I took my soul retreat. A few months later, I began laying out the bones of Reclaim Your Creative Soul: The Secrets to Organizing Your Life to Make Room for Your Craft. At face value, it was my answer to those around me who wondered how I was able to write books while holding a full-time job, raising a family, and everything else that kept me so busy. But more than that, it was a love letter to myself and those who needed to hear this message: The two biggest obstacles between you and what feeds your soul is fear and a feeling of unworthiness. More than following my guidelines toward structure and organization, my hope is that readers will began to believe they are worthy of contributing their creativity to the world, and that the world NEEDS this creativity.

Don’t get me wrong, the struggle I felt in August is not something that just magically went away . I still reach moments of overwhelm and an inability to focus. Right now, as I’ve rearranged my life to include college courses, I can feel that same weight bearing down on me. But whenever I feel this way, it’s when I know I need to pause and reevaluate where I’m at, where I’m going, and what I need to do to get there. And because of this book, I have a reminder on what needs to happen so that I can keep going.

If you are in a place where your creative life feels out of reach, I encourage you to pick up Reclaim Your Creative Soul and start working the steps toward creative freedom. Writing this book changed my life. I hope reading it changes yours.

A great way to start 38

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I want to tell you a little something about birthdays for me. Every year, I cry. It started around my 31st birthday. I was in Disneyland, the happiest place on earth. It was the perfect place to spend my birthday – or so I thought. I had no idea how old I would feel surrounded by a bunch of adorable, little teenagers. And there I was, celebrating the fact that I was officially in my 30s.

Ever since then, I have gotten the birthday blues around my birthday. Every year, except this year.

I turned 38 today. In two years I will be leaving my 30s and entering a new decade. And you know what? Bring it. Because today I had the absolute best day. I spent it working on my book (which is still not finished! but almost!). And then I did a little shopping. And then I went out to the beach to spend time with God, reflect on this past year, and think about how I want this next year of my life to look.

Here’s a video from today:

But there’s more. As I went home, there was this old guy hitchhiking on the side of the road. I passed him, and saw the frustration on his face. Something in me told me that I needed to turn around and pick him up. And so, I did.

IMG_6526Now, I’m not saying that everyone should go out and pick up hitchhikers. It’s generally not a safe practice. But there was something about him that told me he was okay, and he really needed a ride.

Turns out, he really did. His name was Bob, and he was 71 years old. He’d had a heart attack the week before, his 4th one of his life. He was staying in a beach house up the way, and his wife was gone for two days while she took care of her own mother. So he had no car, and no way to get into town.

And so I drove him. But before I did, I told him that today was my birthday, and I asked him not to hurt me on my birthday. I was only half joking with him. But he assured me he was a good guy.

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I took him to the restaurant he wanted to go to, and discovered he would probably hitchhike back home. This didn’t sit right with me. So I told him to enjoy his dinner, and I would wait for him and drive him back. He offered to pay for my dinner, but I refused. My hubby was already making me dinner at home. Plus, I really wanted to get some writing in.

At any rate, he ate quick, and then came out. I felt a bit selfish to have not eaten with him, choosing my writing over conversation. If I could have changed anything about this experience, that would have been it.

On the ride home, Bob told me that I blessed him. He said he felt like God brought me to him. But I felt like he blessed me. Of everything, this tiny gesture was the highlight of my whole day.

It was a great way to start 38.

The bells, and the Nicholas Effect

 A monument of bells exists on the side of Highway 1 in Bodega Bay, having been erected there 19 years ago. If life were fair, this tower wouldn’t exist. If it weren’t for two robbers who took the life of a 7-year-old Bodega Bay boy, we’d never know the Children’s Bell Tower.

On Oct. 1, 1994, the Green family were vacationing in Italy. They were all in the family’s rented car when two robbers mistook them for jewelers. The robbers chased them down, shooting into the backseat. 7-year-old Nicholas Green was shot in the head as he slept in the backseat with his 4-year-old sister, Eleanor. The bullet destroyed Nicholas’ brain, and he was declared clinically dead.

“His life was wasted,” his father, Reginald Green, told reporters in Italy. But he also said that Nicholas had a very strong heart. So the family offered their son’s heart, along with other organs, to people who needed them.

His heart went to a 14-year-old Roman boy.

His liver went to a 19-year-old Sicilian woman.

His kidneys were given to a 14-year-old Puglia girl and an 11-year-old Sicilian boy.

And three others received his pancreas and corneas, as well.

Out of death and despair, life was created. A community was formed. One little boy and a grieving family changed the course of 7 human beings, their families and friends, and two nations, along with the world who watched this family’s selfless act of love with awe.

The Green family had a choice. They could have dwelled in their despair, angry that their precious son was taken from them so violently, angry at the nation in which their son was taken. I’m sure they felt these emotions. The story could have stopped there. But it didn’t. The family decided their son’s untimely death wouldn’t be in vain. His life was treated as a holy sacrifice, an offering to 7 other families who were in need. If it weren’t for the death of Nicholas Green, at least 5 of those recipients may not be alive today. And because of the generosity of the Green family, Nicholas Green lives on in these 7 individuals.

This was only the beginning of the story. At the time of Nicholas’ death, organ donation in Italy was the lowest among European countries. After his death, organ donation significantly increased in Italy, as well as around the world. Today, organ donation has tripled in Italy, and Nicholas Green’s name is associated with this change. The movement is known as “The Nicholas Effect,” referring not only to organ donation, but to anything good that emerges from tragedy.

It was in 1996 when the Children’s Bell Tower was unveiled in Bodega Bay, located behind the Bodega Bay Community Center and garden. The tower holds more than 140 bells, all donated by individuals, families, schools, and churches to honor Nicholas Green and his family. In the center is a large bell that holds the name of Nicholas Green, along with the names of the 7 people who received his organs. This bell was created and donated by Fonderia Pontifica, the oldest bell manufacturer in the world, and blessed by Pope John Paul II. And the bells were assembled by sculptor Bruce Hassan of San Francisco, who said he placed each bell on the sculpture as if they were his children.

This last week, I took a soul retreat to clear my head and find answers to some very real issues that have been plaguing me for months (see the story at Soul Retreat part 1, and Soul Retreat part 2). I had created a plan that included visiting the ocean as part of my soul retreat. On the way out to the coast, I turned my head at exactly the right time as I passed by the bell tower, seeing it set back from the highway. I knew the story behind the tower, but had never stopped. I’d always wanted to, but you know how it is when you live in the same area as something wonderful – you take it for granted.

Following the ocean portion of my soul retreat, I headed back down the coast to find something to eat. But as I came upon the bell tower once again, I made a split second decision to stop. I parked my car and walked the pathway toward the tower. I stopped to read the plaque set near the monument, then continued to the tower.

Once there, this is what I experienced.

There was no heavy breeze when I got there, but the bells still offered delicate rings with each light gust of wind. I stood in awe, drinking in the soft clanging of bells, and the heavy horns that sounded in the distance. I breathed in and out, standing on Holy Ground as I meditated on the beauty that came out of tragedy…the Nicholas Effect.

The other day, my husband left a statement on the chalkboard in our kitchen: “Life is what you make of it.” At this moment, I cannot think of any statement that is more true.

*Information about Nicholas Green and The Nicholas Effect found at The Press Democrat, The NY Times, Wikipedia and nicholasgreen.org. Find out more with the book, The Nicholas Effect: A Boy’s Gift to the World, written by Reg Green, Nicholas Green’s father.

Here are a few photos of the Children’s Bell Tower in Bodega Bay, and surrounding monuments.

How to take a soul retreat, part 2

The other day I took time away from everything to come back to center and find the answers to some very serious dilemmas in my life that have been plaguing me. I called it my soul retreat, as it was time I had set aside to get back in touch with my soul.

The Tides Restaurant in Bodega Bay

My biggest takeaways from this experience were to BREATHE and LOOK AROUND—as in, take advantage of every free moment in my life to just do NOTHING. You can read more about that in part 1.

Before I left for this personal retreat, I had to have a game plan. So I mapped out a course.

The first thing I did was to decide WHAT I would be addressing. I think that was probably the most important part of this whole exercise. If I didn’t know the WHAT, I wouldn’t have been able to find the answers I was seeking. I know that sounds so basic, but sometimes we don’t know what it is that’s bringing us down in our lives. By identifying these problem areas, I am being very clear on what I hope to accomplish.

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The gazebo at Walnut Park in Petaluma.

Next, I chose different places where I would be tackling each issue. For me, there were three things I wanted to address. So I chose three different places I would be traveling to throughout the day. My biggest rule about these places were that they couldn’t be at home. If I stayed home, I wouldn’t be able to relax. So I chose places that spoke to me with each issue, places that would bring me a sense of peace as I tackled each issue.

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My new favorite spot in Petaluma, the boat dock with a view of the bridge in the Turning Basin. Expect my new novel to be written here….

Third, I armed myself with wisdom. For me, that meant finding scripture that addressed the very issue I was struggling with. For you, it could mean a few inspirational quotes, a poem, a passage from a book…anything that speaks to you, and is about the particular issue you’re facing. I recommend that you find at least three pieces of wisdom for each dilemma you hope to tackle.

Finally, I created a schedule. I don’t mean a timed schedule—there was no way for me to know how long each issue would take. But I mean WHAT I would be doing to address each issue. Here’s what that looked like for me:

  • Arrive at destination.
  • Be still.
  • Read wisdom and meditate on the words.
  • Pray/focus on wisdom and the issue at hand.
  • Be still, remain open for answers.
  • Journal.
  • Prayer of gratitude.
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A bench at the Children’s Bell Tower in Bodega Bay. Expect more on this in a future post. The place is really amazing.

Here’s the funny thing about the wisdom I chose before I set out on my journey. When I chose it, I knew that it spoke to me. But I didn’t know how it would speak to me in the moment I would be meditating on it. As I focused on each passage I chose, there were certain words or ideas that would ignite inside of me, almost as if a light bulb went off. The words I chose in the morning ended up holding a brand new meaning as I meditated on them, offering me new insight into the dilemma I was facing.

I ended each session journaling what I had experienced, as well as offering a prayer of gratitude for the answer I had received. Journaling was an important aspect of this process, as it helped me to formulate what I had just experienced, and to ensure I wouldn’t forget. As for gratitude, we should always be grateful when God/the Universe meets us where we are and provides us with a path.

When I was done with my three issues, I came back home. The kids were already home from school, so I said my quick hellos. Then I locked myself in my bedroom for an hour, with a note to not bother me until that hour was up. I did a half hour of yoga, and then I took out my journal for the final time to record my takeaways from the day.

And I’ll repeat those takeaways here: BREATHE and LOOK AROUND.

Before I end, here are a few things you will want to bring with you when preparing for your own soul retreat:

  • Kleenex! Tears are cleansing. 🙂
  • A journal
  • A plan
    • What you want to address
    • Schedule of events
    • Destination(s)
  • Food and water (don’t let thirst or hunger get in your way of connecting with your soul)
  • A blanket or chair, or something comfy to sit on
  • Inspirational music
  • An open mind

If you decide to gift yourself with a soul retreat, I hope you’ll share your experience with me. Not the whole thing—that’s between your soul and God/the Universe. But let me know if it helped you to reach the answers you were seeking.

{{{Peace}}

How to take a soul retreat, part 1

Yesterday, I took the day off of everything to come back to center and seek answers to the path I need to take in some very perplexing areas of my life. I called it my soul retreat, as it was my chance to reconnect with my soul in ways I hadn’t been able to for months.

Let me start out by saying that the day was a success. I accomplished everything I had hoped I would, and received some very clear answers to my dilemmas, offering me a sense of peace. I won’t share all of these here, as they are very personal. But I do want to share some of my experience. Because this is kind of long, this post has been broken into two parts.

The day started out with a drive to the coast. I set my drive to the soundtrack of Sigur Ros, one of my favorite bands for getting out of my head and immersing myself in the task at hand. Usually, it’s my writing music. Today, it was my transition from a too-busy life, to time with my spirit.

I was battling two overwhelming emotions on this drive: fear and hope. I was hopeful that I would find the answers I was looking for, and looking forward to this time I’d set aside to seek them. But I was fearful that I wouldn’t find the answers. Even more, I was afraid I would find the answers, but they wouldn’t be ones I was happy with.

There were tears on the drive, and it took almost the whole Sigur Ros album to get there. I found the exact portion of the coastline I’d envisioned, and pulled into a parking spot that faced the ocean. Then I let the album finish out as I stared out at the ocean, losing myself to the vastness of the sea.

When ready, I came out of the car and found a spot on a picnic bench. I brought with me a box of Kleenex (which I had to buy on the way there since I’d forgotten!), and my journal. Then, as I watched the waves crash against the rocks below, I began my soul retreat.

Throughout the day, I felt myself being told two things: BREATHE and LOOK AROUND. These were the central answers to the dilemmas I brought to the table. Take a deep breath in and let it out slow. Pause.  Take a moment. Open your eyes. Look at your surroundings. Breathe.

Most of my stress has been the result of extreme busy-ness. In my life, I have many hats I wear throughout the day, and it’s hard to not feel pulled in all directions. But that busy-ness isn’t necessarily caused by those different hats in my life, it’s really about what I do with the time in between.

Let me ask you, what do you do when you’re bored? How about when you have a moment when nothing is being asked of you? How about when you’re waiting for dinner to be done simmering? What do you do the moment you wake up, or right before you go to bed?

For me, I reach for my phone. I check my email. I peruse Facebook. I check my book stats. I watch interesting videos. I play a game. I do anything that will keep me from doing nothing. I remove myself from being where I’m at, and place myself in dozens of different places via my phone in a matter of minutes.

This is true for many of us. And in doing this, we’ve lost the ability to just sit and breathe, and to be aware of our surroundings. We’ve forgotten how to see the world around us. Maybe it’s because life is unpredictable. We can’t control what happens to us in the real world. We can’t control the hurt, the anger, the sadness, the boredom, the fear. But when we’re immersed in a little 2”X3” screen, we can control everything we watch, feel, and experience. We make ourselves feel better through a heartwarming video. We share a moving article and feel like activists. We comment on a friend’s Facebook status and feel as if we’ve socialized.

But we’re not living in the moment. Me. I have not been living in the moment. I’m not allowing myself time to breathe and take in my surroundings. I’m filling my pockets of free time with moments of busy-ness instead of taking a deep breath in and letting it out slow.

Breathe. Take a look around. Be where you’re at. Such concepts…

See part 2 here.